Hardwood vs. Softwood in the Cabinet World
Who would have thought there was a difference in wood? It all comes from trees, right? Discover what defines a wood as soft or hard, and why that can make a huge difference in the quality of your cabinets.

Builder Supply Blog

What is The Difference Between Hardwood and Softwood?

Wood is usually classified as either hardwood or softwood. This classification doesn’t necessarily mean that hardwoods are harder (denser) than softwoods or vice versa. It depends on how the tree reproduces.

In general, hardwood comes from angiosperms, plants that produce seeds with some sort of covering like apples or acorns. Most of the time, angiosperms or hardwoods lose their leaves during the cold weather.

Softwoods are gymnosperms. Their seeds fall to the ground as is without a protective covering. Softwoods are usually conifers, which means they produce cones. Gymnosperms or softwoods are typically evergreen and they stay green all year through the cold months.

How to Tell The Difference Between Hardwood and Softwood?

You can generally tell the difference between a hardwood and softwood by looking at the seeds around the tree. If the seed is a fruit or hard nut with a protective covering, then it is a hardwood. If the seed is unprotected or  inside a cone like a pine cone, then it is a softwood. You can also tell the difference by looking at the leaves or needles. Leaves grow on hardwood and needles grow on softwood.

Hardwood trees include:


Softwood trees include:


Pros and Cons of Softwood

Almost 80 percent of lumber is made from softwood. Because softwood lumber is so plentiful, it typically costs less than hardwood. It’s easy to find and you won’t have to wait for delivery because most lumber supply companies will have it on hand.

Softwoods aren’t the best choice for cabinets, though. Softwoods contain natural resins which emit terpenes and volatile organic compounds. These can cause health problems for people with asthma, other breathing problems, allergies or sensitivities. Softwoods also break down faster, scratch easily and need more finishing to seal resins inside.

Pros and Cons of Hardwood

Even though hardwood may be more expensive than softwood, the lack of resin makes it more durable and more resistant to scratches and damage. The lower odor emissions of hardwood also make it a healthier choice because it’s less likely to provoke allergy or asthma attacks. Hardwood sports a nice grain pattern as well, which looks good in cabinetry.

Finding hardwood lumber may take a little more work than softwood, but the moisture content is generally lower. The less moisture content, the less likely it is for the wood to warp and damage the structure of the cabinet. If you’re sourcing hardwood from a local sawmill, ask for kiln-dried wood. Lumber yards will usually stock air-dried wood dried for over a year to lower the moisture content.

Hardwood Cabinets

Hardwood is the wood of choice for cabinetry. In general, the pros of hardwood greatly outweigh those of softwood. Make the hard choice and produce a quality product with hardwood for your cabinets.